On the tail end of my scouting trip to Savannah, having an opportunity to see the Lexington Legends was well worth extending my stay considering the potential to scout three of the Houston Astros first round picks in second baseman Delino DeShields Jr., third baseman Mike Kvasnicka and pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. And while “Folty” was not in the cards, the two first rounders, power hitting first baseman Telvin Nash, as well as former second round center fielder Jay Austin provided me with considerable video and scouting material.
With the late 1980’s and early 1990’s serving as my prime in terms of baseball card collecting, I’m no stranger to Delino DeShields Sr. wreaking havoc on the base paths for a handful of teams including the now defunct Expos, Dodgers, Cardinals and Orioles. In Deshields Jr., both father and son share the same defensive position, approximate draft slot and reputations as speedsters. However, it was fascinating to see just how different father and son were in terms of body type and fluidity of movement. In reflecting on both, the comps to one another seem quite lazy once tools and skills are actually considered.
Video after the jump
For me, young DeShields is best described by envisioning a bowling ball striking glass pins. The power and explosion is present to do damage, but the lasting impression is the mess that’s left behind. This isn’t entirely a bad thing as DeShields Jr. has a football background and physique of a fullback, but top flight athleticism in baseball combines explosion with agility and the young second baseman could stand to improve on the latter. This very well may happen with more time away from the gridiron should his body lean out some, but it scouted as a hindrance at the time and pointed to an overall lack of body control.
In batting practice, DeShields Jr. flashed explosive hands and plus bat speed, but his propensity to swing with his shoulders negated much of it. Additionally, DeShields Jr. had a tendency to spin off on his front foot causing him to swing from his heels at times which diffused whatever explosion he does have. In all, this points to a lack of polish and an inability for DeShields Jr. to repeat his hitting mechanics which hurts consistency. Of course DeShields Jr. will spend much of the 2012 season as a 19-year old so this is to be expected – Just know his swing needs plenty of smoothing out going forward. However, one cannot teach bat speed and wrist snap of which DeShields Jr. has to plenty of.
Additionally, DeShields Jr. displayed acceptable control of the strike zone – especially for a prospect his age. However, his flat plane swing limits his ability to drive the ball with authority on a consistent basis. It’s obviously better for a player with speed to keep the ball on the ground than in the air, but DeShields Jr. has some potential for power. For the Astros, helping him tap into that power will be a challenge which will go a long ways in determining his ultimate upside.
With a position switch from the outfield, DeShields Jr. is a work in progress at the keystone position. At present, his footwork is choppy and has that “bull in a china shop” feel. Once again, DeShields Jr. is young, new to the position and has the athleticism to improve so it’s not a concern yet. His compact build and short steps may also lead to a perception DeShields Jr. has a lack of range – primarily to the back hand side. Additionally, his fielding numbers did improve throughout the season as he committed as many errors in his first three games (7) as he did the final two months of the 2011 season.
In terms of speed, a 4.15 home-to-first time pulled from video leaves him in the neighborhood of a 65 runner on the 20/80 scale which is well above average. With most players losing speed as they age, I suspect DeShields Jr. might experience an uptick should his body lean out some with attention being paid to elongating his stride. Additional experience gaining jumps and being in more steal situations will also increase his stolen base success rates.
In Delino DeShields Jr., it’s difficult to not like the tools and upside should he max them out at the big league level. However, the young second baseman is just so unpolished that contacts considered him more worthy of a third round selection after the fact. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but in 2010, I remember sitting in the stands during a rain delay listening to a Houston Astros scout discuss DeShields Jr. with a colleague after he had signed. In snooping, I learned the organization had scouted just about every one of his games and believed Deshields Jr. was the best bat in the Atlanta area during a year it produced four first round prep picks. After hearing that praise, I simply came away expecting more.
Going forward, DeShields Jr. may very well return to Lexington for another half season or so, but it’s a bit of a crap shoot considering their history of promoting top prep picks from the level. Should DeShields Jr. develop perfectly, the potential is there for him to become poor man’s Brandon Phillips, but it’s a very loose comp and one I’m not completely comfortable with. The combination of his physique, position and tools make him a unique prospect with skills that leave him a true boom or bust candidate.